By Michael Kalafatis (Stoke on Trent)


The Squid and the Whale starts with the Berkman family playing tennis doubles on the one team is Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and his older son Walter (Jesse Eisenberg) and Joan (Lauran Linney) with Frank (Owen Kline) the younger kid in the family in the other team. Noah Baumbach the director of The Squid and Whale with this opening manages to convey the internal conflict between the family members that which will be the main theme of the film and show which sides the kids will take when their parents decide to separate and share custody.

The film takes place in Brooklyn in 1986, this particularly date is not an arbitrary choice because the film has many autobiographical elements as Baumbach like Walter and Frank also grew up having both parents as writers, his father was a novelist and his mother was a critic for the Village Voice and he grew up in 1980s. So Bernard in the film is also a novelist who has published a good novel years ago and he tries unsuccessfully to get published again but he is content in teaching after his latest manuscript gets rejected. Bernard as a character is a very arrogant and not a good father, when he asks his younger son Frank what he wants to be when he grows up he tells him he wants to be a tennis instructor like Ivan (William Baldwin) who is in charge in teaching him tennis on a weekly basis, but Bernard rejects this idea and he tells him he is not a philistine (a person indifferent in arts and culture), showing no regards for his son’s opinion and he even calls Ivan a half-wit in front of him.

Walt is the one who is more closely to his father, he admires him so much that at one point he asks him to sign his book for him. Joan manages to publish a story to the New Yorker to critical acclaim which annoys Bernard and we start to see how competitive both Bernard and Joan starts to become towards their two kids love and admiration. As the film progress we learn that prior to the separation Joan had a relationship four for years, information that lead to her older son Walt to call her “disgusting” and then she starts to see Ivan the tennis instructor. So we realise that the reason for Bernard and Joan getting the divorce is not the fault of a single person but that they both were at fault and that separation was the only solution even though this decision will have a lasting impact on their two kids.

The Squid and the Whale focal point is around Walt and Frank and the way their parents influences them, this this evident from the way Frank starts cursing because his dad curses a lot so he mimics him, and when he starts to see Ivan more often with his mum he starts to mimic the way he talks which show that Frank still has not developed his own personality and he is looking for a role model to look up to, also Walt takes a lot from his father especially his cruelty and apathy towards other people’s feelings that even at some point he tells his girlfriend Sophie, “I wish you did not have so many freckles.” Watching the film, we realize that both parents are at fault in creating a very dysfunctional family but Baumbach manages to show just how the errors of anyone’s parents can shapes us and affect us in a negative or positive way and the choice lie in us to imitate the good qualities and reject the bad qualities that our parents pass to us as we grow up.


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